Status update

I have recently received written confirmation that my membership is noted as withdrawn. This means that I am now a baptized member of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, IL.

This post consists of three hopefully quick items:

I. Yes, I really am a baptized member.

II. A concern regarding ¶ 238.

III. Some plans for future posts.

I. Yes, I really am a baptized member.

Admittedly, the above is an odd claim. It seems counterintuitive. Once one withdraws, doesn’t the Discipline say that one is no longer a member?

I could bore people (more) by going through the legislative (especially ¶ 215) and constitutional history of membership within The United Methodist Church. Instead, I am going to note that the Discipline requires reporting local church membership to the annual conference. The relevant disciplinary provisions include but are not limited to ¶¶ 233.2, 247.12, 340.2c(2)(f), 606.7, and 606.8. There is a form prepared by the General Council on Finance and Administration for this purpose. (Its full official name appears to be “Membership & Participation, Table 1 of Local Church Report to the Annual Conference, The General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church, 2013-2016 Quadrennium – Revised 6-27-2013″.) Here is line 12:

12. Total Baptized Members who have not become Professing Members
Report all persons who are baptized members of the church, but have not yet taken the vows of professing membership. DO NOT INCLUDE persons who have been removed from professing membership (by withdrawal or charge conference action), though they remain baptized members.

People can disagree with me, but I’m not sure they’re free to disagree with the one who sent the above form.

Actually, I need to qualify who may disagree. ¶ 606.8 says:

Official records of secretaries, statisticians, and treasurers shall be kept according to the forms prepared by the General Council on Finance and Administration so that official statistical and financial items shall be handled alike in all annual conferences and that uniformity of reporting shall be established as a worldwide church policy.

Thanks to Part II in the current 2012 Discipline, central conferences are free to make “changes and adaptations” to such forms.

II. A concern regarding ¶ 238.

There is a difference between baptized members and professing members. Typically baptized members can’t vote in church elections (see ¶ 44). One 2000 General Conference delegate speaking in favor of the constitutional amendment (to ¶ 4) that defines baptized and professing membership said, “… in keeping with our Wesleyan theology, our Christian heritage, we need to acknowledge that baptized people are fully members of the family—just in a different way.” (This is at page 2417 of the 2000 General Conference DCA.)

(I don’t think the above quote changes its meaning outside of its context, but I will note that in the same comment, the delegate talks about how we don’t leave children in the yard or the garage. I guess anyone disagreeing with the speaker supports leaving children in the yard or the garage. You don’t support leaving children in the yard or the garage, do you?)

So I am still fully a member of The United Methodist Church (see ¶ 215), just in a different way. Note that my current place of residence is Vermont, and the church where I am a baptized member is in Chicago, hundreds of miles (kilometers) away from my current place of residence. It also just so happens that my current place of residence is in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, and Chicago is in the North Central Jurisdiction.

In these difficult times, there is talk about upholding the entire Discipline. All ordained ministers throughout the connection are certainly aware of ¶ 238:

¶ 238. Members Residing at a Distance—When a pastor discovers a member of The United Methodist Church residing in the community whose membership is in a church so far removed from the place of residence that the member cannot participate regularly in its worship and activity, it shall be the duty and obligation of the pastor to give pastoral oversight to such person and to encourage transfer of membership to a United Methodist church in the community where the member resides.

(¶ 238 seems to originate in the 1952 General Conference of The Methodist Church. See page 1586 of the Journal. The report begins on page 1578.) ¶ 238 does not seem to be limited to those pastors who live in the same community. (Pastor is defined at ¶ 339, but note the errata for provisional deacons.)

I don’t like the idea of someone having “a duty and  obligation … to give pastoral oversight” to me. Dianna Anderson has recently described why boundaries matter. I won’t say that all of the same reasons apply to me. I will say that her reasons resonate.

From the strictly legal (disciplinary) standpoint, here’s the problem:

  1. If a pastor, online or off, acts out of a “duty and obligation … to give pastoral oversight” to me, that pastor might succeed in — to use an indelicate phrase — “pissing me off.” (The state of affairs described by this indelicate phrase is just one of many possibilities, but this is the most likely one.)
  2. If a pastor, online or off, does not act out of a “duty and obligation … to give pastoral oversight” to me, that pastor is liable for the chargeable offense of “disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church” (¶ 2702.1d).

As the kids might say, the above potentially poses “a dilly of a pickle.”

There’s an additional wrinkle: “It shall be the duty of all clergy and lay members of The United Methodist Church to appear and testify when summoned. Refusal to appear or to answer questions ruled by the presiding officer to be relevant may be considered as disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church …” (¶ 2708.8) Since I’m not a professing member, I can’t request a trial under ¶ 2702.3. (Trials for lay members don’t have an appeal beyond the district level [¶ 2717], yet the annual conference pays the cost of prosecution of lay members [¶ 2714.5].) I guess I would have to testify if summoned.

I can’t speak for everyone, but speaking for myself, as someone who is “a member of The United Methodist Church residing in the community whose membership is in a church so far removed from the place of residence that the member cannot participate regularly in its worship and activity”, I’m fine with a pastor not acting out of a “duty and obligation … to give pastoral oversight” to me. If somehow such failure results in a pastor appearing before a trial court, my testimony will probably help the respondent (regardless of whether that is my intent).

III. Some plans for future posts.

Plans are curious things. For example, perhaps one of my short-term plans should be to acquire some beautiful letterhead that says, “I am not a crackpot.”

Rather than speculate, I’m going to limit the rest of this post to my current plans for future posts in this blog:

  1. A series on the Discipline‘s footnote on page 66.
  2. A single post concerning candidates and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. (This is a simple question that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere.)
  3. A series concerning episcopal accountability. This is inspired by the peculiar “Statement Of The Council Of Bishops” from November 15, 2013.
  4. In time for Black History Month, a post concerning the history of The Methodist Church.

Maybe I’ll revisit some of my older posts, but these are the current plans for new posts. I hope this will cover the rest of this month.

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